5 Ways To Balance Blood Sugar
Maintaining balanced blood sugar levels is such a key element of good overall health. So much so, that I’d consider it one of the top three things you can do to for your health besides maintaining proper gut bacteria and managing inflammation levels.
Both high blood sugar levels (hyperglycemia) and low blood sugar levels (hypoglycemia) can lead to many negative side effects, from mild to major. Tiredness, feeling “hangry” or angry after not eating for a while, inability to focus, headaches, low-blood pressure, and constant hunger may be all too familiar symptoms you deal with everyday. More debilitating and long term issues that can result from blood sugar imbalances include insulin resistance, obesity and type 2 diabetes. Yikes.
Our bodies like to maintain a very narrow and precise level of blood sugar, which is about 4 grams or 1 teaspoon. Not too much, not too little. Insulin is the driving hormone that controls blood sugar levels, and gets secreted by the pancreas after we eat. Insulin acts as a gatekeeper, allowing sugar to enter the cells and be removed from the bloodstream, therefore regulating our blood sugar levels.
When we eat a meal that is high in carbohydrates and low in fat and protein, our blood sugar levels spike and insulin has a big job to do clearing the bloodstream. However, sometimes in the rush to clean up the excess blood sugar, insulin is then over secreted and we wind up with too little blood sugar, thus low blood sugar levels. Welcome to the blood sugar roller coaster; not a fun ride you want to be on! This chronic cycle of too high and too low blood sugar is called dysglycemia.
Typically we think high blood sugar is only related to carbohydrate or sugar intake. But the mechanisms in the body behind blood sugar regulation are much more sensitive to just carbohydrates. Lifestyle choices we make beyond just our diet can have an impact as well. Let’s take a look at some of the things you can do - relating to diet and lifestyle both - that can help keep your blood sugar stable.
1. Eat balanced meals - This is absolutely the most important factor when balancing blood sugar. Sure, you’ve heard it before, but what does eating a balanced meal actually look like? It means making sure all of your meals (especially breakfast!) and snacks (yes, even snacks) contain all the three macronutrients - protein, fat and carbohydrates. A meal or snack without these three components can put you on a blood sugar roller coaster, reaching for another snack an hour later. Protein provides satiety - meaning you will feel full after eating it and won’t be hungry again soon after. Fat delays gastric emptying and slows down the absorption of blood sugar. Carbohydrates provide us quick and usable energy to fuel our everyday tasks and activities. Don’t eat carbohydrate rich meals or snacks without either some protein or fat if you want to keep your blood sugar stable. An interesting point to add: the order in which we eat these macronutrients and how this affects our blood sugar levels is a new topic being researched. Small studies have shown that blood sugar levels are lower and more stable over a longer period of time if the protein and fat is eaten first, then carbohydrates. Interesting to think about and maybe even self-experiment with.
2. Manage stress - Stress has a profound impact on the body in ways you might not even realize. Everything from digestion, hormone production and regulation, metabolism, circulation, respiration, brain function are all impacted by stress. This stress can be perceived stress from a busy week at work and lots to do in life, or physical stress like exercise, injury or disease. Either type of stress can have a negative impact on our blood sugar levels. Stress hormones produced by the body such as cortisol and adrenaline are secreted in response to the perceived stress, which in turn affect glucose (blood sugar) levels. This may not be a big deal for a short period of time, but if you lead a chronically stressful life, then your blood sugar may be elevated because of it.
3. Focus on QUALITY carbs - You don’t need to eliminate carbohydrates in order to stabilize your blood sugar. You just have to be eating the right carbs, with the right macronutrients (protein and fat). Focus on carbohydrates that offer high nutrient and fiber value. This means real food carbohydrates such as potatoes, squashes, plantains, fruits, beets and other vegetables. These sources of carbohydrates offer nutrients that facilitate their digestion like magnesium, B vitamins and vitamin C and fiber to help slow down the high rise of blood sugar after consumption. Processed grains and flours and refined sugar, which make up the primary source of carbohydrates in most people’s diets, are void of nutrients and offer little to no fiber, creating a disaster when it comes to blood sugar levels.
4. Limit sugary drinks - One of the worst things you can do for your blood sugar is to drink a sugary beverage on an empty stomach. Things like soda, juice, coffee sweetened drinks, sweet teas, and energy drinks are a blood sugar nightmare. An almost guaranteed blood sugar spike then crash is to come soon after. Ever drink a soda about mid morning, feel that jolt of energy, then a dramatic crash soon after? That’s all thanks to your bodies furious attempts to balance your blood sugar. Instead of drinking a sugary beverage on an empty stomach, get in some fat and protein first! Or better yet, eliminate the sugary beverages and opt for water, unsweetened tea instead.
5. Get plenty of sleep - The body thrives on sleep and, just like stress, almost all bodily systems are affected by lack of sleep. Lack of sleep is a stressor on the body in itself. Studies have shown that people consume more food and have misinterpreted hunger cues when they are tired. Lack of sleep may also reduce your body's sensitivity to insulin. Remember, insulin is the driving force behind blood sugar levels and we want our bodies to have a high sensitivity to this hormone. Insulin resistance is what we do not want, and means our bodies are unable to respond to insulin’s message to regulate blood sugar. Not sleeping the recommended 7-8 hours a night, especially for a long period of time, can really affect your blood sugar levels in a negative way that maybe you hadn’t thought about before.
As with many hindrances in the body, there are practical approaches that involved both diet and lifestyle factors to manage. Blood sugar regulation is definitely one of them, and something I encourage you to pay attention to, given its immense impact on your overall health.
Do you have any other tips to keep your blood sugar balanced? Any questions or comments? Let me know!
If you have further individual questions or concerns about blood sugar regulation, contact me, I specialize in helping people achieve blood sugar balance through my one-on-one nutrition coaching services. Thanks for reading!